Only three months after being installed as the new Movie and Television Review and Classification Board (MTRCB) chairman, Atty. Eugenio “Toto” Villareal already has a lot on his hands. The recent controversies surrounding two Sunday noontime variety shows have made him very busy for the past few weeks.
Surprisingly, the agency was quick to respond on the issues. In just a few weeks’ time, they were able to give orders and sanctions for these shows. This is something Villareal wants to accomplish as the new chairman — for MTRCB to be more relevant and responsive.
“We initiated this aspect of adjudication since last year. It’s called the Best Practices Conference. Let’s say a show has a racy topic like sex and it airs at 8 p.m. when the kids are still awake. We call the networks and those behind the show. Instead of starting with ‘Hey, why did you do this?’ we first try to know where they are coming from. We would like to believe that you, as a network, you know what you’re doing,” he says.
What makes the agency much less frightening, and more appreciated by the networks this time, are its efforts to find out the basis or rationale behind a show, or its particular segment that is being complained about, and its role as a guide. Hence, these functions have made MTRCB a significant partner of the networks in the development of the television and film industry.
“Because we are mandated under the law to contribute to the development of the television industry, we ended up suggesting to (a network) to adopt certain best practices to assure that the talents are protected and the goals of the television program are upheld. When there are problems, we want to be a bridge between the audience and the network, between the audience and the movie producer. We are here like a catalyst and at the same time a compass to guide and to help everybody, in whatever way we can,” explains Villareal, who was appointed by President Benigno Aquino III in November, replacing senatorial candidate Grace Poe-Llamanzares.
An MTRCB board member since 2010, Villareal is certainly not new to the laws governing the entertainment industry. In fact, before he joined the agency, the full-time lawyer even serviced clients who were mostly celebrities.
It is also no wonder that Villareal, a devout Catholic who hears Mass everyday and always keeps a rosary in his pocket, staunchly advocates for shows that promote old and contemporary Filipino values and preserve the sanctity of the family. Using these values as the foundation, he hopes to empower every Filipino parent in making the right discernment on what he or she deems appropriate entertainment for his or her children.
“Kami kasi hanggang advisory lang. Kayo sa pamilya niyo, mag-usap kayo at huwag kayo magrerely sa advisory. Dapat mapanuri ang ating mga magulang. Mapanuri ang mga tito at tita, mapanuri ang mga ate at kuya, pati mga kasambahay,” says Villareal, who brings their “Matalinong Panonood,” “Family and Child Summits,” to the provinces to spread the advocacy to a wider audience.
The new MTRCB chief was a high school class valedictorian at the Colegio de San Juan de Letran. As a scholar at the Ateneo de Manila University, Villareal graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree, major in Legal Management in 1984. He then obtained his Law degree, second honors, at the Ateneo School of Law in 1988. He also completed a two-year course in Moral Philosophy and Ethics at the Philippine Foundation for Cultural and Educational Development, Inc. in 2000.
On top of his tasks at the MTRCB, Villareal still finds time to teach Social Doctrine of the Church, Legal Technique and the Philosophy of Law at the AdMU.
In this less than 60-minute interview, Villareal talks about MTRCB’s process in addressing complaints; how social media helps the agency communicate to its audience; and how the agency evolves with the changing landscape of Philippine society. (ANGELO G. GARCIA)
STUDENTS AND CAMPUSES BULLETIN (SCB): What’s the update on the “Party Pilipinas’ lewd dance” issue?
EUGENIO VILLAREAL (EV): I hope it won’t be an issue anymore because for one, we already placed them on probation for six months, counted from the date of the decision, which was February 7, 2013. They are subject to a per episode review. That means when we review an episode and they show something offensive or that is not in accord with the rules, then we can stop the showing of the program for the meantime until there are sufficient reforms. We hope that we would not get to that point because we would like to believe in the cooperation extended by the top management of GMA. They made sure that this particular program will engage in meaningful and honest regulation.
Number two, we asked them to come up with a public apology, and they already aired it on the February 10 episode. We’re checking if they have submitted proof of the publication of the apology in a newspaper of general circulation.
What is more important is by the end of March, the officers and the staff of that program — mandatory in that regard would be the executive producer, director of that particular show or segment, and the office-in-charge for programming — will really have to attend the gender sensitivity training and seminar under our supervision. Our legal department will talk with their own legal department. We will determine who will be our speakers. We were told by GMA that they will be conducting their own investigation. They’ve asked time for them to submit to us a final report. After we get that final report, then maybe there will be a need for further sanctions. Otherwise, we just execute what had just been ordered already.
We thank our citizenry, especially those in social media, for bringing this to our attention. It was also our monitoring unit who secured the tape of the episode. So with the vigilance of everybody, we were able to solve this matter in two weeks.
SCB: Before, matters like these used to take so long to be resolved, and there were various consultations with various organizations before a decision was made…
EV: Well, of course, there is cooperation right away on the part of the network. Second, we initiated this aspect of adjudication since last year. It’s called the Best Practices Conference. Let’s say we receive a complaint and the complaint can arguably be a matter of taste, or there are other cases that are a matter of prudence. Let’s say a show has a racy topic like sex and it airs at 8 p.m. when the kids are still awake. We call the networks and those behind the show. Instead of starting with “Hey, why did you do this?” we first try to know where they are coming from. We would like to believe that you, as a network, you know what you’re doing but we got this complaint from the public. The audience is important because without them, you are not there.
So we start addressing the problem by looking first at the strengths of the program. How will the strengths of this program contribute to solving the problem? For example, there is this program that children are made to act the role of adults. And there was a complaint that they were brandishing weapons/war toys and they were even exploding. Now, if you jump on them right away and say, “Hey, you’re guilty,” we would not be able to discover that what happened there was that, yes, they had toy guns but the explosions were CGI (computer-generated imaging). They were super imposed by computer graphics.
With that, we were concerned with the children who were exposed to that kind of scene. But we were told that in their system, they have “older brothers” who speak and explain scenes to the children. And that is the strength of that particular show. So we talked to this “kuya” who is tasked to process the children before and after a particular scene on how they feel about it. What would be the effect on their fellow children? All of these are resolutions that are submitted to us for approval by the show. We just come up with an order and then it would be an ongoing process. With the program, we take them by the hand, so to speak, and talk to them on how they can improve the program. ‘Yan ‘yung sa Best Practices Conference.
My favorite example of this is another show where the main hosts present themselves as very macho, and would interview people on the street about their favorite sexual position. The show airs at a time when the kids are still awake. When we did the conference, we discovered that the hosts and producers of that show were interested in making society better for everyone. That’s their strength. First, they presented a resolution that they would have self-regulation before a particular segment comes out. And you know what, when I asked for their compliance, they completely reformatted the whole show. These male characters would now go around and immerse themselves in jobs of a barber or fisherman. That becomes a springboard for them to help the poor. So, it was a complete reversal, hindi lang wholesome, they’ve become socially productive.
Another Best Practices Conference we had was when we stumbled upon a seeming conflict between talents and producers. What started as a complaint from the public was actually symptomatic of the problem inside. Because we are mandated under the law to contribute to the development of the television industry, we ended up suggesting to them to adopt certain best practices to assure that the talents are protected and the goals of the television program are upheld.
‘DON’T JUST RELY ON ADVISORIES’
SCB: In the United Kingdom, they have what they call “watershed” programming where at 10 in the evening they can show anything. They are more lax on what they show on TV at this time. Does that same thing exist here in the Philippines?
EV: The question to ask is, if you have a certain material, would you want your six-year-old or 10-year-old to see that, whether or not it is age-appropriate? If you say that it is not appropriate for this particular age, then the next question to ask is what would be the timeslot? Because that particular age may still be awake.
So we always take into account the timeslot. We take into consideration the fact that after 10 p.m., some entertainment may not be suited for very, very young audiences. Subject again to the law governing the MTRCB and also to the Code of Standards, if the network is a member of the KBP (Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster sa Pilipinas). But it is not only limited to late evening. There are so-called “dead hours” in the afternoon but the children might still be there.
SCB: In the case of the first Pinoy Big Brother reality show, which was suspended because many complained about a kissing scene, the show aired after 10 p.m. Most of the complainants said that it was being watched by kids. The show management were saying that yes, maybe they should not have shown that. But should the children be still awake and watching it at that time?
EV: We have advisories, and I’m sure you already know the tune of MTRCB. It is shown before the show starts. Once you see it, it is a signal for the family especially the parents to be on guard. This is the time for the family to communicate if the show is age appropriate to everyone. They can determine whether this form of entertainment will be in accord or will agree with the particular culture and sensibility of that family.
For instance, you have a 10 to 10:30 p.m. reality show. And we label it as either PG (Parental Guidance) or SPG (Strong Parental Guidance). The thing there is that’s just a signal. The next thing is if in your family for instance, you have higher standards, then you should be able to tell your children not to watch this. Other families may have other standards. But what is important is that there is no form of entertainment which attacks human dignity, whether women, children, the disabled, elderly, etc. That’s the norm. Kami kasi hanggang advisory lang. Kayo sa pamilya niyo, mag-usap kayo at huwag kayo magrerely sa advisory. Kaya nga sa SPG there are indicators such as violence, sexuality, etc. But what is the tone of sexuality in your family? What’s the tone of violence?
We may have a blind spot here in MTRCB. When I was involved in reviewing, I had my blind spots. Sa horror, mapagbigay ako. I would relish things that would be R(Rated)-13 already and I give it a PG. So I would get corrected by my fellow board members.
STRICT PARENTAL INVOLVEMENT
EV: I would like to share with you something I shared with our board members during our regular meeting. It is written by educator James Stenson from the United States. He is an authority in effective and deliberative parenting.
May mga parents na nagsasabi na kung ‘yung kumpanya eh may mga mission-vision, guiding principles, bakit hindi ang pamilya? In fact, I was able to attend a seminar several years back on guiding parents to make a mission-vision for their families. Ang ginawa namin ng wife ko, inadopt namin. When my children were still in grade school, dun namin dinrowing, how we see our family 10 years from now. Dun mo makikita kung ano ‘yung kanilang pinahahalagahan. ‘Yun ang magdedetermine kung anong entertainment ang makikita sa bahay.
After the elections, we’re coming up with the Family and Child Summit because we want to hear from different sectors and stakeholders like the networks. We want to see the new contemporary Filipino values which we will use as standard.
Sabi ni James Stenson, nagiging masyado na tayong materialistic. “The real evil of materialism is not the pursuit of things. It is rather seeing and treating other people as things. And therefore putting things ahead of all.” So nacocomoditize ang kababaihan, o overworked ang mga child stars noon. Niño Muhlach was saying kaya hindi siya tumangkad kasi ganun.
Ako, in my experience before joining MTRCB, I was a full-time lawyer and counsel to some movie stars and talents especially children. Mas strict noon. Masuwerte ‘yung mga bata ngayon kasi may mga guidelines na ang DOLE (Department of Labor and Employment) and Department of Education. Even us lawyers, we put in the contract na ganitong number of hours lang ang pagtatrabaho nila. Eto ang pediatrician, eto lang ang dentist, wala nang iba. You have to make sure dahil bata ‘yan.
SCB: So nung time ni Niño Muhlach, walang ganon?
EV: Yes. Now, Stenson also says, “Keep the electronic media under the discerning control of parents.” The operative word is discerning. Dapat mapanuri ang ating mga magulang. Mapanuri ang mga tito at tita, mapanuri ang mga ate at kuya, pati mga kasambahay. Kaya dapat may technology transfer. That’s why we’ve been going around, even in the provinces, pati sa barrio, para sa aming “Matalinong Panonood” campaign kung saan iniintroduce namin itong aming mga ratings and classifications.
We’ve been to Naga, Legazpi, Cebu, Dumaguete, Davao, Leyte. We’ve been to Puerto Princesa, Iloilo, Antique, Capiz. We’re going to Bohol and the Mountain Province. Mga board members namin ang pumupunta. Sinasabi nilang dapat tayong maging mas liberal, pero kapag pumupunta kami sa probinsiya and one of our board members narrates a particular scene and asks the teenagers to give a rating, magugulat ka kasi what we will rate here as PG or R-13, they will rate it as R-18 without batting an eyelash. Maybe they’re conservative, pero baka mamaya tayo ‘yung taliwas. Ang Pilipino pala, talagang pinapahalagahan ‘yung mga bagay na ‘yan. Tayo lang ang imperial Manila.
SCB: That’s why there’s a need to review contemporary values.
EV: Yes, that’s right. And of course, when you say contemporary, you mean they are values for our time. But that does not negate the fact that for every time, this value will always be a value. These include the right to life, the right for the family to always be protected. Due process, ‘yung hindi panghuhusga sa isang tao, ‘yung pinapakinggan bago husgahan. Right to an abode. Right to a clean and safe environment. Lahat ito, hindi kailangan yurakan. Paggalang sa kababaihan. Pagprotekta sa mga bata, from the moment of conception hanggang sa pagtanda. Walang ifs and buts ‘yan.
Sabi ni Stenson, “Keep the electronic media under your discerning control. Allow nothing in your home that offends God, undermines your lessons of right and wrong, and treats other people as mere things.” Ang magulang, meron kang tinuturong right and wrong, tapos may papasok na entertainment. Kunwari boy and girl, they meet, they kiss and they suddenly go to bed. You have to explain that that belongs to another culture, because you’re telling your children that it should not be the case, that it’s good to wait. I lectured in a parenting seminar in the Ateneo several years ago. May mga girls dun from girls schools, ang kanilang topic is “We are worth the wait.” Sa guys naman, “It’s worth the wait.” Kailangan mong ipaliwanag kasi kung hindi mayuyugyug ‘yung bata, ‘yung kaniyang value system. You will have confusion and very disturbed minds for lack of a better term.
Ituloy natin ‘yung kay Stenson. “This means no pornography, no gratuitous violence, no glamorous portrayals of insolence or disrespect for others. Teach discernment in use of the media: to accept what is good, reject what is wrong, and know the difference.” ‘Yun ang gusto naming tumbukin. Maempower ‘yung ating mga mamamayan na they will be able to know the difference. You see, maraming nagsasabing freedom of expression. Pero kung wala itong reklamo ng mga mothers tungkol sa network na nagpalabas ng bed scenes during noontime, eh siguro napalampas ito.
SCB: What else did you discover during the barangay summits and consultations?
EV: That they love the idea of the family always being together. Malakas sa probinsiya ‘yung modesty. ‘Yung pagpapahalaga. Family values, very clear.
SERVING AS BRIDGE, CATALYST AND GUIDE
SCB: How do you filter the complaints coming from the citizens, especially now that everyone is on social media and everyone has access to the MTRCB?
EV: In the same way that you are discerning with your entertainment, you also have to be discerning with your social media. For instance, whenever there’s a forum, I tell them they can follow MTRCB on Twitter, @MTRCBgov, at ako @totovillareal. May Facebook page din ang MTRCB, and you can reach me by email, email@example.com. Kung nasa ganito kang larangan, talagang wala kang choice, kailangan basahin mong lahat. Pero kailangang mapanuri at may training na ginagawa. You have to be well-informed. That’s why here on the board, iba-iba ‘yung mga discipline nila. There are writers, directors, teachers, and also housewives. We have representatives from the film and television industry. That is why we should not be seen as villains. We just classify. Kapag may problema, all of us are part of these industries, let’s try to solve this together.
SCB: But how can you foster a frank discussion on contentious topics such as divorce or homosexuality, or sexual assault, if networks are always afraid of being complained about because of the topics they’re discussing?
EV: It’s a matter of treatment, presentation. If you are talking about two women living together, ‘yung ganyang topic pang alas-onse ng gabi ‘yan at kailangan pinaghahandaan ng mabuti. Hindi lang ‘yung basta naisip niyo sa story conference, mount na kaagad. Kailangan may pagsala. Normally, may internal na taga-kontra o taga-baril.
Kunwari may discussion on divorce, dapat meron sa loob na nagsasabi na easy lang kasi in the Constitution it says we should protect the family and marriage as a social institution. Why is divorce delikado? Because although we respect the views of others, ang unang tatamaan niyan ay ‘yung bata. A child is entitled to the love of both parents. A dad has love that only a dad could give. A mom has love that only a mom could give.
SCB: But isn’t that presenting an idealized world to children and is equally as damaging?
EV: Mayroong tinatawag na Northern Star. Ang mga sailors, when they want to get to shore, they follow the Northern Star, even during stormy seas. But can you touch the Northern Star? No. Pero kaysa naman nandito lang tayo at wala tayong ginagawa, nagkakaroon ng isang malaking nasyon at maunlad na nasyon when we dream. Libreng mangarap. Kaya dream tayo para umunlad ang bansa natin. Dream tayo para solid ang pamilya.
SCB: What other reforms are you instituting?
EV: One is the Matalinong Panonood. Number two is the Family and Child Summit. We want to make it and involve everybody. Our Best Practices Conferences, when there are problems, we want to be a bridge between the audience and the network, between the audience and the movie producer. We are here like a catalyst and at the same time a compass to guide and to help everybody, in whatever way we can.
Pinaigting din namin ‘yung programs na ipinapalabas sa mga bus, kailangan parental guidance lang. Ang mga trailers, hanggang G (generally suitable for all audiences) lang dapat ‘yan. ‘Yung mga movie posters, kailangan hanggang G lamang ‘yan. Diyan pala sa mga bus, kaya pala nagkakaloko-loko ‘yan, puro pirated. So we talked with Optical Media Board chairman (Ronnie) Ricketts and we’re coming up with an initiative, magco-cooperate ang agencies namin tungkol diyan.
We are involved with the Metro Manila Film Festival. Metro Manila Development Authority chairman Francis Tolentino and I are going to evolve the rules for the next FilmFest.
We also give 70 percent discount to legitimate independent films. May interest silang gumawa ng pelikula sa probinsiya. In Capiz, a Protestant university is making short films. So why not make them the hub for short and independent films for Western Visayas? And then we can replicate it everywhere.
Marami pa sigurong kailangang gawin. Maliit lang ahensya namin. Ang tumutulong lang sa amin kapag umiikot kami ay mga volunteers. Mga pastors, educators, LGU officials, mga pare, madre. Mga nanay, tatay, na naniniwala sa ginagawa namin.
Gusto naming ma-empower ang mga manonood kaya kami bumababa kasi hindi puwedeng mag-lecture ka lang. Hindi ito maa-achieve in one full sweep. Kailangan bababad ka sa mga sektor ng industriya at ‘yung audience.